The Nashville Predators
could not reach an agreement on a new contract with captain Shea Weber
prior to their scheduled club-elected arbitration hearing Tuesday, so now it will be up to an independent arbiter to rule on how much the restricted free-agent defenseman is worth.
After hearing 90-minute cases from each side Tuesday morning, the arbiter has 48 hours to render his decision.
Weber reportedly told the arbiter he was seeking a one-year contract worth $8.5 million. The Predators reportedly countered by asking for a $4.75 million award.
The award is likely to come somewhere in between, but the Predators will have to accept it no matter the term because by filing for club-elected arbitration, they prevented other teams from signing Weber to an offer sheet this summer but also forfeited their rights to walk away from the arbiter's ruling.
Weber earned $4.5 million this past season. He is the first player this summer to have an arbitration hearing.
Weber is not eligible to be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2012-13 season, so by asking for a one-year award he and the Predators could potentially be back in this same predicament next summer.
The difference is next season Weber would have greater bargaining power as he would be able to sign an offer sheet. However, if he were to opt to take the club to arbitration, Nashville would have walk-away rights.
However, Weber has stated his desire to stay in Nashville for the long haul and, for obvious reasons, the Predators clearly do not want to let franchise defenseman out of their grasp.
Predators general manager David Poile has built his perennial playoff team by concentrating on defense first and he wants to keep the core foundation of goalie Pekka Rinne
and defensemen Ryan Suter
and Weber in Nashville for the better part of the decade.
Weber, arguably the best player in Predators' history, is the first of the trio to be up for a new contract.
Suter and Rinne are entering the final years on their current contracts and can be unrestricted free agents after the upcoming season.
The salary cap is not a concern for the Predators because, according to capgeek.com, they are currently No. 30 in the NHL in salary for the 2011-12 season at roughly $41.2 million. That actually puts Nashville $7.1 million below the salary-cap floor, but it's possible the cap hit on Weber's new contract eats up all or part of the difference regardless if it's for one year or multiple years.
There are currently seven defensemen on NHL rosters with contracts calling for an average annual value of $6.2 million or more. Weber's resume likely puts him in the contract category of Brian Campbell
($7.14 mil), Zdeno Chara
($6.9 mil), Jay Bouwmeester
($6.68 mil), Dan Boyle
($6.66 mil), Dion Phaneuf
($6.5 mil), Kimmo Timonen
($6.33 mil) and Nicklas Lidstrom
Weber was a Norris Trophy finalist this past season with 16 goals and a career-best 32 assists while playing in all 82 games. In his first season as captain, the Predators beat Anaheim in six games to win their first playoff series in franchise history.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl